View to a kill: Prominent on the inside back cover of last week's Urbanview was a full-color, bare-chested, gun-toting, comic-book heroine with the bold heading: "Urbanview kicked ass." Note the past tense. Indeed, it appears the faltering economy and competitive local marketplace have conspired to kick Urbanview's ass.
It was the goodbye issue for the struggling Oakland weekly, a local arts and entertainment paper that, in addition to running content from its corporate parent, put local artists' work on the cover and featured the straight-talking social commentary of J. Douglas Allen-Taylor.
The paper kicked off in March 1999 as a forum for loft-dwelling artists around Jack London Square. It was able to thrive for a short time, with financial help and advice from Silicon Valley-based Metro Newspapers, which publishes three other alternative weeklies in Northern California and ended up buying Urbanview in January 2001.
But like San Francisco's Metropolitan, another ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Metro to establish a voice in this area, Urbanview seemed to struggle with its identity.
Peter Crimmins, a contributing writer whose says he bartered his articles for "promotional swag" -- hats and T-shirts -- after Urbanview's budget got tight, thinks it folded too early. "The paper never really got a chance to develop into something. It probably needed a couple more years," he says, "and it got cut off."
Dan Pulcrano, editor and publisher of Metro and CEO of Urbanview, describes his company's investment in the paper as "much bigger than a breadbox." But replacing his title in the final issue was the phrase "no worse for the wear."
Pulcrano corroborates: "I'm trying not to be excessively negative," he says. "It isn't the end of the world."
Nonetheless, he is pulling the plug on a paper he says had a "very enthusiastic readership." The publisher plans to refocus the Urbanview staff toward what he calls a more economically viable venture -- Oakland.com.
Pulcrano's sudden enthusiasm for Oakland.com is surprising, given that he's owned it -- and other city domains including Sanfrancisco.com and Sanjose.com -- since 1995. Despite another "bigger than a breadbox investment" in the early days of the Internet, Pulcrano left the sites to languish. A recent browse of Oakland.com revealed no original content, and plenty of malfunctioning links. Some categories were pathetic: "Oakland Shopping" contained only two links -- to a ballroom-dance supplier and an online rummage-sale newsletter -- both apparently broken.
Pulcrano says there was too much early competition from other city guides to capitalize on his prophetic purchases, but the sites have still proven to be a smart long-term investment. Hotel and car reservations have been doing well, he says, and now he's ready to take the concept to the next level -- entertainment listings.
And as for Urbanview? Pulcrano is optimistic that there will be "other venues for that type of commentary and expression." "Every art project has its life," he says. "It was an artistic and social enterprise that never succeeded in being a business enterprise." -- Helene Blatter
Cracking the Bar code: If former Oakland city councilman Leo Bazile wants to clean up his image after his forced resignation from the California State Bar last year, he might want to tell his current boss, Oakland's Friendly Cab co-owner Baljit Singh, to stop referring to Bazile as his lawyer.
In fact, Singh and his wife hired their former lawyer last year as general manager for the cab operation, which is under fire from drivers. Singh referred queries for a story about the dispute (Cityside, page 9) to Leo Bazile, his "attorney."
Bazile recently represented the Singh taxi empire against the union-seeking cabbies before the National Labor Relations Board (which ruled against Friendly last week), and one needn't be a lawyer to do that. But to "practice law" without a state license is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail or a $1,000 fine. "Practicing law," according to case law, includes giving "legal advice and counsel," even if the nonlawyer in question isn't filing briefs. "I am not his attorney. I am not practicing law," Bazile responded.
The cabbies, in fact, claim Bazile has used his legal expertise to make their lives more difficult. "He came in with all sorts of ways to take advantage of drivers, legally, with all his legal knowledge," says Wahid Aslami, a former employee of the Singhs who has rallied against their empire.
For his part, Bazile has been reticent to give up practicing law. He agreed to resign from the state Bar early last year after an investigation confirmed he'd extorted $143,750 from a trust fund belonging to his son, Jabari Bazile. The Bar charged him with "misconduct including incompetence, misappropriation, disobeying a court order, and three counts of moral turpitude," according to its in-house publication. Under the terms of his exit deal, Bazile was to resign after completing two death penalty cases he was working on, but Bar Prosecutor Andrea Wachter ordered him "inactive" in April after Bazile took on a partner's client in violation of the agreement.
Controversy is nothing new for the ex-councilman. In 1993, his aide was convicted of extorting money from a local businessman, and Bazile himself paid $36,000 in fines after failing to disclose campaign contributions. During an unsuccessful mayoral bid in 1998 (he also ran in 1990), Bazile publicly asserted that former mayor Lionel Wilson was not black, but merely "colored," and that black politicians relied too heavily on "white liberals" for donations. The following year, Bazile, then vice mayor, lost his temper at a council retreat, reportedly calling Wilson Riles Jr. a "goddamned liar," and exhorting Mary Moore to kiss his ass.
Bazile's new employers, whose taxi business is regulated by the city, nevertheless have good reason to want his assistance. "Leo knows government, he knows policymakers, and he is an incredible resource," Oakland Councilman Larry Reid told the Chronicle after Bazile agreed to resign from the Bar. He "will have some clients as a government lobbyist, if that's what he chooses to do." For Bazile to use his old government know-how is one thing, but if he isn't already doing so, the ex-counselor may want to keep any legal tips to himself. -- Helene Blatter
'Twas a dark and stormy nightmare: Last time we chatted with Chris Baty, the Oakland-based Express columnist and literary instigator, he'd narrowly escaped doom at the hands of his own creation, National Novel Writing Month ("It Was a Dark and Stormy Month," December 19, 2001). The challenge was, and still is, simple: Participants commit to writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November, a goal that led to the official event credo: "No plot? No problem!"
The problem was crowd control. Baty had been expecting perhaps a few hundred aspiring novelists, but thousands of wordsmiths flocked to participate.
The demand overwhelmed both his Web server and the aching wrists of the friends Baty managed to sweet-talk into hand-entering the sign-up data. Enrollment was finally capped at 5,000, but as the writing got underway, the site weathered a hack attack, and NaNoWriMo experienced a spate of unauthorized merchandising, a proliferation of spin-off sites, and tempting offers of cross-promotional opportunities from companies who wanted to cash in on the independent project.
Baty resisted the bait, but at a cost. He shelled out roughly $6,600 to cover expenses such as Web hosting, T-shirt printing, and the price of renting a space for the Thank God It's Over party. His soft-sell plea for donations after the fact brought in contributions from only about two percent of last year's novelists. And while 750 actually completed the brutal task, no royalty kickbacks were forthcoming, as none of these novels, at least to Baty's knowledge, have actually been published.
This time around, our man says he has no worries. "I've wised up on several fronts," he announces. "I have realized that I will no longer have friends or family if I didn't implement some sort of automated sign-up." As a result, www.nanowrimo.org has been revamped and has held up so far, despite 1,100 sign-ups in the first two days alone.
The Oaktown muse has also learned a bit about fund-raising: "I realized that whining doesn't have an effect," Baty says. This year, he's asking participants to cough up an optional $10 up front. He's even looking forward to the crowds. "October and November are just like a dream time. It's just two months where everything seems possible," he says. "Nothing compares to that feeling of watching people commit themselves to perpetrating semi-reasonable art." -- Kara Platoni
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